The hellbender, the largest salamander found in N. America, is found in cool, clear, fast flowing streams from New York to northern Georgia and westward to Arkansas and Missouri. The species is divided into two subspecies, with the Ozark hellbender occupying a very small range in the White River Drainage in Missouri and Arkansas. The Ozark hellbender species (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis bishopi) was listed last week as a candidate species for listing as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. This species, which occupies a much smaller range than the closely related Eastern hellbender is in serious decline and has become extremely rare in the wild. Like many aquatic species, causes of decline are believed to include poor land management leading to siltation in the watershed, impoundments, and chemical pollution from industry and agriculture. In an unusual move, the Service also cited legal (for scientific purposes) and illegal harvest (poaching) as a major threat to the viability of this subspecies.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the species is in enough trouble to consider giving it the highest level of federal protection. Now that the Ozark hellbender is being considered for protected status, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking public comment from concerned parties regarding potential listing. This is a required step in which scientists, stakeholders, and representatives from concerned governmental and non-governmental agencies may present additional data or comments as the Service considers listing status.